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Conundrums of Motivation

March 31, 2015 1 comment

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. The idiom is classic and its accuracy profound. By what method can one make another do an action? For what purpose does one choose to activate the mind? As an instructor, this challenge of motivation remains the ever-impossible problem to solve. Can the motivational riddle be solved?

Many have tried: incentives such as food and cash have been attempted with diminishing returns. Are external motivators more powerful? The avoidance of the threat certainly works for students whose parents directly influence their performance in school. But are these techniques effective in developing life long learners?

Unfortunately the problem of motivation (seemingly its deficiency and not its excess) has existed forever. For what purpose should I do this thing? The “I” remains the factor. Only when it matters does the individual act. Is it culture that determines the value of an action? Fear might play a part and likewise motivations and the avoidance of punishment. And yet for educators around the world what legitimate action can be taken to inspire another to act. One can only do so much and ultimately the student and his or her cognition remain the single driving force between inaction and the action.

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Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Loss on Higher Levels

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Is the death of someone talented more tragic? The “critically-acclaimed actor” is a common start for widely read obituaries. Lost at her prime stage of talent, her death comes with both reminders of the past and musings for the future. Reflecting on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Slate’s Dana Stevens reflected her regret that Seymour would never again be the focus of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. She mourned the loss of an artistic collaboration in the making.

All deaths are tragic, but with the death of public figures we experience death together. Though we never meet Celebrity X, we see his films and spend hours with his work. From this we experience the death of these figures in unique and novel ways. These are not our family members, but they matter and we know them a some deeper, human level. Is it strange that many spend more hours watching the work of a celebrity than they do with neighbors living just a house away.

The “w0rk” of a selective group of people is experienced by the world. The actor’s personality becomes product and, from sea to sea and country to country, a world experiences the work. Despite cultural differences and political turmoil an actor’s work can be considered by anyone. Herein lies another great power of art: where politics creates boundaries and pain and suffering determine daily life a work of art can breach all borders.

Each individual possesses a unique talent. Whether he or she locates and develops this talent depends on a variety of factors. Is everyone a Shakespeare or Mozart? Perhaps they are if given the right talent, time and focus. Though all have certain skill sets few are provided with the bundled supplements to find its worth. How sad is it that millions go without even knowing of their skill? And yet, despite these millions left unaware the select few who realize their talents often work to create things that forever change the world for everyone.

This is where the greater tragedy comes in. In losing an individual who was aware of his or her talent we lose this precious item of development. For the few who can break through and realize their skills it is their duty to follow it through. So often these breakthroughs come with an inability to cope. Some have argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting skills were closely tied to his ability to sense human experience. Such sensitivity, they claim, left him vulnerable and unable to cope. The same has been argued for poets whose untimely deaths suggests too sensitive a demeanor or some lacking tool to separate skill with life experience.

Is the death of genius more tragic? Indeed it is but not just for the human soul we lose.

Artistic Picks

December 23, 2013 Leave a comment

To assert one’s identity is to re-assert and codify identity politics. Why was one selected for this position? What qualifications garnered the individual with the opportunity? In moments of competition literally person versus people- the factors that are used to make a decision are more important than the decision itself. Yes, the ways you decide are far more important than what you decide.

To provide one with an opportunity on the basis of identity is to disregard or discount skills unrelated to identity. A great artist is judged not by background, heritage or culture; instead, it is the work itself that persists through the ages. Art outlasts the artist. Contemporary culture has moments where background, heritage, or culture trump artistic skill. In these situations the artist’s work is not the major focus; instead, we ask where did she come from? Who or what does she love? Or, worse yet, how can her selection say something about who we are?

All decisions are expressions of the deciders. President George H.W. Bush is often quoted as saying he “is the decider” when challenged that his vice president Dick Cheney was actually in charge. We treasure our authority and use it explain who we are. In selecting someone we express a preference for perspective. Selections are symbols and in decisions where people are involved (i.e., artistic nomination) symbolic stand-ins for our beliefs.

Nominations of artists are particularly interesting on a meta level. Artists often work with symbols and manipulate meaning. One who nominates an artist for a position is manipulating symbolic manipulators to manipulate a symbol.

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not.┬áTechnological change is inherent and profound.

Replicating Symbol Souls

July 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Public figures deemed celebrities often shed humanity and take on symbolic significance. Today’s celebrity is never a flesh-and-bone human being. Never do we hear of physical illnesses or the actual details of a celebrity’s life. Instead it is only in the dramatic physical failures: the tabloid wrought tales of debauchery and rehab induced recovery that follows afterwards.

In giving birth the symbol becomes a vector for another human form. Our sign creates another who both illustrates and alters the creator. The celebrity mother transacts with the new-born child to make another symbol. A symbol makes a symbol.

Since celebrities exist on the basis of the media, it is this very force that promulgates the symbolic status from mother to child. Carried from the one to the other, this process of celebrity connection via biological connection adds a new layer to the reproduction process. Does the birth alter the symbol to suggest a more humble form whose need to reproduce like “the rest of us” advance the ability to relate to the figure? Some celebrities seem determined to re-establish their distance by using strange names. The unique baby name functions both to establish a unique identity and variable existence.

In giving the birth the celebrity advances his or her existence on both symbolic and biologic fields. Birthing like the general public might suggest commonality and increase understanding but many seem obsessed with adding distance. The use of strange names and the provision of extraordinary benefits works to re-establish the celebrity status for the celebrity mother. Via her indulgence she establishes again her latent differences and suggests to all who view her that indeed she’s something different.

Towards A Larger Something

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Do all humans need something larger to believe in? Where religion falls victim to doubt and atheism takes hold the individual simply replaces one faith with another. It is often suggested that where the religious take confidence in figures like Christ, Moses and Mohammed the atheist community forms similar connects to Darwin, Marx and Shakespeare. In each “great man” the follower invests hope and the search for purpose. If every human needs guidance in “how to live” where might one find a greater sense of purpose beyond these larger figures? Is it possible to live beyond this need for something more? Is a greater power the only real source of sense in a life of seeming futility?

Some might question the importance of these important figures. Surely Shakespeare can be respected, but to serve as a God-like smacks of exaggeration. How might Darwin play a religious like role for the non-religious? When one’s ideas become foundational to existence than these powerful roles take hold. As Jesus framed a model for existence, Darwin has come to represent a way of thinking and seeing the world. The movement from basic theories to broad, life-guiding theories transcends the individual to a religious figure. The prophet is one who provides profound insight in a world of endless confusion.

What of the events that celebrate common bonds and aim to establish greater sense of community? Is the church service replaced by conventions or concerts? Does not one find common bonds with fellow human beings at the rock concert? The similarities are striking if one considers forms of dress, directions of focus and use of music. One might find it difficult to delineate where the differences stand and where the music concert inspired the church service and vice versa. Both have common goals and common means to a success. Certainly both events serve the purpose of bringing seemingly diverse people together for a common goal. No matter the ends of these events, the means to group cohesion are very similar. All humans seem determined to find a greater sense of purpose and seek it out in varied forms and places.

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